Body and Head Positioning Play a Key Role in Learning

Body and Head Positioning Play a Key Role in Learning

by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, on The Handwriting if Fun! Blog

 

Elementary school children spend 30-60% of their classroom time working at their desks on fine motor skills, predominantly on tasks involving handwriting.   A visual sweep of the classroom scene will uncover as

Poor posture is never acceptable for learning!
Poor posture is never acceptable for learning!

many seated body postures as there are students.  For the most part, an upright position will not be the one most utilized.  Slouching, leaning forward; resting heads on the desk, arm or hand; and legs curled up on the chair seat will most likely be the writing positions that would be observed.

Unfortunately, these positions are not beneficial for the brain, back, neck or fine motor skills.  These are not the children’s preferred seated positions, however.  They are simply the ones that work best for them in order to save all of their energy for their school tasks.  They may not be aware of it but they have chosen these seating positions because they find it difficult to maintain an upright body position.  This could be the result of weak muscles and/or diminished visual skills.  Or it could be the product of an inadequate seating arrangement.  Muscle strength and vision skills should be evaluated and can be remediated to determine their role in poor postural development.  However, regardless of the reason, seating  always requires assessment and adjustment in order to provide students with the best opportunity to maintain their bodies in a healthy position that will assist in their learning.  Posture affects the way that they learn and can enhance their educational experience.  Their brains and their eyes demand better posture.

The brain comprises only 3 percent of the body’s weight.  However, it uses more than 20 percent of the body’s energy.  It requires a steady blood flow to sustain its supply of glucose and oxygen.   These are the elements that prevent the brain from becoming “foggy” and robbing us of the level of attention needed to complete our cognitive tasks.  That’s why a walk in the fresh air can raise alertness and even assist in creative thinking.  The exchange of “old” air for fresh air recharges the brain for mental tasks.  It has been reported that dolphins exchange nearly 90 percent of their lung capacity each time they surface, letting go of the majority of their “stale air” to make room for fresh oxygen.  In comparison, humans are able to exchange only about 25 percent of their lung’s capacity even while standing up straight and taking a deep breath.  The ability to exchange air is severely diminished when we are seated in a slouching position, allowing us only a 5 percent exchange with each breath.  Sitting up straight can increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain by up to 40 percent.

Appropriate chair and desk heights are a must for good posture.
Appropriate chair and desk heights are a must for good posture.

Learning requires the ability to concentrate and to store new and adapted information into memory.  Diminished oxygen to the brain decreases a student’s ability to concentrate – settling him into a state of “fogginess.”  Equally as important for learning is the positioning of our eyes.  Seeing is our dominant sense and our primary source for gathering information in learning.   Between 75 and 80 percent of what we learn is accomplished through the use of our eyes.   Learning and memory skills can only be as efficient as vision skills.  They depend upon the two eyes working together efficiently:  the accurate fusion of the information from each eye, smooth eye movements in every direction, the ability to focus both near and far, and the ease of scanning and fixating on objects of interest.  Students from the age of 5 place continual demands on their eyes to gather information and learn.  Virtually every moment of their day is devoted to this task – at their desk, in the lunchroom and on the playground.  Close eye work, such as reading and writing, pose increased visual demands on the 17 essential skills required for efficient vision.  Postural imbalance, such as slouching or resting our head on the desk, increase those demands and can result in distress to our vision and body.

The Cotton Ball Game helps build efficient visual skills.
The Cotton Ball Game helps build efficient visual skills.

Myopia, or nearsightedness, could be developed as a result of how a person uses his eyes.  Although the tendency for myopia is based upon heredity, visual stress has been determined to be a cause as well.   Visual perceptual processing, the skills we use to determine spatial relationships, to recognize likenesses and differences and to derive meaning from what we see, are also developed through the use of our eyes.  The information we “learn” is only as accurate, however, as the information we gather.  Poor posture, whether in a standing or sitting position, affects the accuracy of that gathering process.  A student who reads and writes with his head resting on his left arm causes a shift in his eye alignment (fusion), diminishes the eyes’ ability to move smoothly across the page (scanning and fixation) and places an increased strain on the eyes for near vision (focusing).  Slouching stresses the eyes by positioning them in an downward direction; crouching in the seat moves them into an upward position.  Only an upright position can provide the eyes with the best possible advantage for learning.

Posture is an important player in a child’s educational success.  It deserves attention.

 

 

 

(edited May 2018)

The Handwriting is Fun! Blog is published by and is the property of Handwriting With Katherine.

 

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills. In her current book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, she shares a comprehensive guide and consistent tool for addressing handwriting development needs. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

Collmer Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation

http://www.handwritingwithkatherine.com/handwriting-development-assessment-and-remediation-book.html

 

 

 

 

Pictures above that are the property of the author must provide a link back to this article or her website.

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.

What Do Handwriting and Optical Illusions Have in Common?

sciencebob
   Image Credit:  Science Bob

(previously published November 2013)

Optical illusions fascinate us with the tricks they play on our visual system.  Combinations of angles, contrasts, and geometrical shapes have the power to confuse our brain into thinking that stationary objects are moving and that flat images have 3-D qualities.  The information received through our eyes competes with the data we have stored in our brains in an attempt to make “sense” of what we are viewing.    The past struggles with the present in order to assimilate the information that we are seeing and square it with what we have previously seen.  When the brain has difficulty matching what it knows to be true (or has learned from experience to be true) with what we are looking at, it tends to take on a leadership role in transforming the scene into what it “should be.”  Hence, static and straight lines become moving, curved ones.   Susana Martinez-Conde, Director of the Laboratory of Visual Neuroscience at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, AZ, defines visual illusions as “the dissociation between physical reality and subjective perception of an object or event.”  It appears that when we view an optical illusion, we are experiencing “the ways in which the brain can fail to recreate the physical world.”

eyesThe brain’s re-creation of the physical world begins the day we are born – the first time we set our eyes upon a physical object.  Our first sighting may be blurry and limited to a face, but the information that we obtain from it becomes part of our visual memory.  As newborns, however, we suffer from too many disorganized visual cortex connections, “which must be carefully pruned, based upon visual experience, into crisply defined columns.”  Less is more in the case of our development of fine detail and shape and pattern recognition skills.  Vision skillsranging from color and form perception, to face and object recognition, and to motion and spatial awareness are strongly influenced by “expectations based on past experience.”   Vision is the dominant sense in the acquisition of approximately 75-80% of what we learn and is a powerful force for how we perceive ourselves and the world around us.  It is this very power, however, that can lead the brain to incorrectly “see and respond to the visual world,” as it is drawn into misperceptions while it attempts to match what it knows with what it sees.  While visual perception plays a key role in the misperception of an optical image – resulting in an optical illusion, it also maintains a significant place in the mastery of handwriting skills.  “From the detection of light and dark in the retina, to the abstraction of lines and edges…to the interpretation of objects and their spatial relationships in higher visual areas, each task in visual perception illustrates the efficiency and strength of the human visual system,” and its vital link to handwriting mastery.

In order to appreciate the mystery of optical illusions and their visual perceptual link to handwriting skills, we must begin with the one fundamental necessity for efficient handwriting – automaticity.  Virginia Berninger, in her paper “The ‘Write Stuff’ for Preventing and Treating Disabilities,” identifies handwriting automaticity as “a strong predictor of the quality of composition in normally developing and disabled writers.” Automaticity, in this context, is defined as the ability to correctly produce letters without having to consciously think about them.  When a writer can do this quickly, “memory space is freed up for higher level composing processes, such as what to write about, what to say and how to say it.”  Automaticity does not develop automatically, however.  It is heavily dependent upon guided handwriting instruction and practice.   As a student delves into the world of shapes, letters, and words, he begins to develop the visual perceptual skills that he will need for automatic writing.   The lines, angles, and curves that form letters begin to transform into communication tools in his long-term memory, ready memoryfor retrieval and storage into his short-term visual memory for use in writing quickly, legibly, and creatively.  The writing process from start to finish – from scribbling as a toddler to fluent handwriting skills – is a complex one that involves a myriad of strengths.  Physical, cognitive, and visual skills lay the foundation for automaticity…and the ability to see into the future.

Dr. Mark Changizi, in his book, The Vision Revolution, compares our ability to think about the future with our ability to see the future. Thinking about what will or might happen tomorrow is reflective of words and sentences coursing through our thoughts.  Sometimes we get it right and other times quite wrong.  Dr. Changizi states that, “visual perception is just a special variety of mental processes, one that leads to seeing rather than sentences running through your mind.”  He describes the visual system as one that creates “a perception that represents the way the world should look in the future” and that we must concede that it sometimes will get it wrong.  Optical illusions are an example of a misperception resulting from our brain trying to predict the future.  But he cautions us against worrying that these misperceptions are the result of faulty brain-vision designs.  Instead, he presents his theory that they are “useful fictions” and actually have a purpose in guiding our behavior as we interact with our world (as in the case of “filling in the blanks” when we can only see a portion of a familiar object).  Misperceptions occur when the object or event that we are perceiving “does not compute” with our experience of how that object should look or how the event should play out.  The brain steps in to make it right by rearranging the facts a bit, encouraging a match with a memory byte it has stored from the past.  This makes for great fun with optical illusions; but in the case of handwriting automaticity, “useful fictions” serve a more important function as they guide a writer’s behaviors by “filling in the blanks” for letters and words.

As we are composing or copying written material, we can’t wait around for the brain to figure out what is wrong and to make adjustments.    achesWhen a writer begins to form the letter “H” starting with the first vertical line, he must already KNOW that the next two lines are another vertical and a horizontal link.  As he writes, the information he produces matches his perception of the letter in his stored memory and he can quickly move on to the next letter.  In reverse, if he sees a vertical line with a short horizontal line extending from the middle right side of it, he will quickly form the letter “H” in his mind’s eye, allowing him to read or reproduce it. No matter the font,  an “H” is an “H” according to his visual perception!

In all cases, he is seeing into the future.

Our visual perceptual skills are in a constant state of motion. Neuroscientist Mo Costandi stresses that we do not see the world as it actually is.  Instead, he contends that “our perception of the world is the brain’s best guess at what is actually happening based upon the information it receives through the senses.”   Movement is a key component in learning as it engages the senses, particularly our vision.  As we learn through the experience of our bodies’ movement – from our trunks to our fingers – while they travel through space, we begin to understand how our bodies work and how they interact with the other objects in our environment.  This is vital to our development of directional concepts and spatial awareness.  These are not only critical skills for navigating physically through our lives, but they form the foundation for handwriting mastery.    Movement continues to play a significant role in our perception of the world as we use the skills we have learned.  Dr. Changizi stresses that we cannot “simply sit back and wait for the world to tell us what’s happening.”  Life, indeed, would be passing us by, both figuratively and literally.  Our visual perceptual skills need to be focused and engaged as we anticipate “the next moment and build a completed perception of it by the time it arrives,” moving with the moment – or at least a tenth of a second behind it.  (I suggest you turn to page 134 in Dr. Changizi’s book for this!)   Handwriting mastery – not simply the learning of handwriting – begins when a writer can anticipate the next movement of his hand in the production of letters before he is required to perform it.  Letter recognition, automaticity, and creativity demand that we remain one step ahead of our visual perception, staying clear of misperceptions.

Unlike optical misperceptions, there is no illusion to handwriting mastery – it’s all very visible, indeed. 

handwriting2
(origin unknown)
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills. In her current book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, she shares a comprehensive guide and consistent tool for addressing handwriting development needs. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

Collmer Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation

Pictures above that are the property of the author must provide a link back to this article or her website.

Pictures above are the property of the photographers at Pixabay or an outside site.  Their use should include the link provided with the photo to give proper credit to their owners.

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.

Please be patient – the Handwriting is Fun! blog posts are on their way!

fun with putty  1313

Hello, and thank you for visiting the Handwriting is Fun! blog.

In the process of transferring the blog to Word Press, all of our previous awesome and wonderful blog posts were…well, lost.

BUT, don’t despair!  They are in the process of being retrieved by the handy-dandy people at Go Daddy and should be arriving shortly!  When they do…I will work hard to get them on here as quickly as I can.

So, please be patient with us as we get this new blog site up and running.  I appreciate your taking the time to check in with us and hope that you will come back very soon!

 

Katherine

 

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